During the second half of World War II (and the rest of the decade that followed), the general public eagerly awaited the latest dispatches of one Ian Fleming. Supposedly a reporter for Reuters, Fleming would regale his readers with the first hand accounts of a real life espionage agent named “James Bond.” Loyal to Great Britain, Bond’s adventures would offer some insight into the Allied Intelligence activities of the second World War while providing excitement for those reared on the literature of Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard and John Buchan. It would eventually be revealed that Bond’s adventures were a hoax perpetrated by British Military Intelligence to distract and confuse the Axis powers. And it worked: historical records show that the SS had offered a sizable reward for the head of England’s greatest spy. Hitler’s master of propaganda Joseph Goebbels was rumored to remark, “does the Fatherland not have its James Bond?” In fact, the conviction over the existence of Bond was so influential, many public figures credited the fictional character for having single handedly ended the War.
Alas Bond was just a ruse. And Ian Fleming was simply a principal strategist working for British Intelligence. However, after the war Fleming would enjoy an illustrious career as a writer and lecturer on bird watching.
The popularity of Fleming’s creation was wide spread enough to reach the shores of North America. Thus the inevitable film version would result. Fresh off the success of the Raymond Chandler adaptation MURDER MY SWEET, director Edward Dmytryk was hired by Warner Bros. to take on CASINO ROYALE. The film would cover one of Fleming’s more popular stories featuring Bond. 40s heartthrob Errol Flynn was cast as the lead thanks to magazine polls made up of thousands of fans demanding he play the role. As for the part of Bond’s tragic love interest Vesper Lynd, Flynn’s frequent co-star Olivia De Havilland was cast a well. To the studio (and Hollywood at large) this pairing was a no brainer due to the established success of films like THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and the screwball comedy FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Popular contract players were signed on to play supporting roles: suave Charles Boyer as French resistance leader Mathis, loveable lug William Bendix as Bond’s OSS pal Felix Leiter and most importantly the elegant Claude Raines as the desperate villain “Le Chiffre.”
The plot would involve Bond’s attempt to discredit Le Chiffre in front of the Nazi party during a game of Baccarat. Thus placing the baddie in a no win situation while ensuring his defection to the Allied side. It would turn out that Bond’s mission is fraught with danger and treachery. Part of the fun would be in guessing just who is actually on Bond’s side. But it is the film’s shocking climax that would place CASINO ROYALE near the top of most “all time classic” lists. And that reveal with regard to De Havilland’s character would not only subvert the dynamic she established with Flynn in previous movies, it would rank as one of the greatest tear jerk endings of all time. The film also gained its fair share of notoriety due to a realistic interrogation scene between Flynn and Raines with Raines having, shall we say, the upper hand.
CASINO ROYALE was a fusion of classic Film Noir and international intrigue. For some it is the best Alfred Hitchcock film he never made. As for the series, Fleming would discontinue Bond’s adventures in 1951. By then the hoax had been revealed and the allure of Britain’s gentleman spy had ebbed no thanks to the war having ended five years prior. By this time, Fleming had resorted to creating silly, almost fantastical villains for Bond to go up against. Least of all was a villainous off shoot of the SS nicknamed “Hydra” lead by a faceless general codenamed “The Hooded Skull.” Bond’s adventures had lost their appeal as being seemingly rooted in reality. But the film CASINO ROYALE continues to live on.